N2N began as a barbecue in 1989 when State Sen. Anthony Williams was still a state representative. It expanded to a five-block-long festival where an estimated 8,000 people gathered for food and festivities. But after 2010, it was halted due to budget cuts.
"When it began, I was looking for ways to keep people connected and engaged," Williams said. "This was a way to bring people together to enjoy different kinds of music, food, and to enjoy each other."
Williams said that, during the festival's hiatus, community members have called for its return.
Previously, the festival relied on state funds. This year, the community has raised funds via donations, sponsorships, and partnerships, including from Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell's office and the Black Women in Sport Foundation.
In addition to live music performances, there will be free food, health screenings, community-resource tables, giveaways, craft and food vendors, and a children's zone.
Williams said the festival was especially important now given recent events surrounding gun violence or police brutality. "We have had lots of instances that have shaken our country," he said, "and it's not lost on me."
An artist like Common is a great fit for headlining the festivities, Williams said, because of his dedication to social justice conveyed in his music. "We couldn't have made a better decision," said Williams. "I'm very proud we picked a young African American male that represents himself [and] his community and has a voice."
Common will be joined by rapper Chill Moody, a West Philadelphia native who recalled performances that stayed with him by headliners like funk queen Chaka Khan and rapper Mos Def.
Moody always wanted to hit the N2N stage, he said, but the festival was halted. When he was asked to perform for its resurgence, "I was so amped to do it."
Moody said the area where the festival would be held was changing, some parts for the better and some for the worse. But he's optimistic. The festival, he said, will be an opportunity for everyone to get together, whether they're new to the neighborhood or they've lived there for years. It's an opportunity, he said, for newcomers "to see how we do things" and for longtime residents to feel that their neighborhood is still home.
Tina Sloan Green, president of the Black Women in Sport Foundation, an organization dedicated to expanding the visibility of black women in nontraditional sports, said she was excited to attend for the festival for the first time.
"It's really grassroots, and I think we've gotten away from that over the years," she said. "You're really with people."
Even though Green is new to the festival, it makes her feel nostalgic, she said. She grew up in what was Elmwood in the 1960s, now Eastwick, where she says there was a neighborhood church or school that kept people connected.
"If people were hungry, you [made] sure they had something to eat."
Her organization will be providing fencing, field hockey, lacrosse, and tennis demonstrations - sports she says many young people who live in urban communities don't have access to. Often, she said, "you have to pay to play."
When it comes to the festival, Williams said, "it's something we intend to continue doing whether or not we have government support.
"One of my favorite moments is being onstage and seeing a different array of people all smiling and enjoying themselves," Williams said, "seeing them experiencing people they've never experienced before in a peaceful and positive way."
N2N Street Festival, Noon to 8 p.m. Saturday, 50th and Baltimore. Free.